Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Next Up for The Magic Detective, Obscura Day 2017

Last year, I was invited to entertain during Obscura Day. This was part of a Nationwide group of festivities put on by Last year's event in Washington was called HOUDINI IN DC. And this year, it's called, HOUDINI TAKES DC. Last year, there were three locations for events. One in the law offices of Ken Trombly, who shared his collection of Houdini posters and photos. Next was McPhereson Square Park, where I presented a short magic show with routines that were similar to those that Houdini might have done. The final leg of the journey was a walk over to the location of of where Keith's Vaudeville Theatre once stood, today it is The Old Ebbitt Grill. I shared some history of the theatre, as well as information on Houdini's upside down outdoor hanging straight jacket escape from that very building.

Ken Trombly from 2016
This year the event takes place in a single location, no travel needed. Everything will be in one place. My friend Ken Trombly, who is a HUGE magic collector, will be bringing a number of his Houdini pieces. Last year he bought several posters and quite a few photographs. His collection is mind boggling! Ken will also be speaking about Houdini as well. I'll be bringing a pair of Houdini cuffs as well as some other Houdini-era cuffs. I will also be presenting a few magic routines, again in the lines of what Houdini might have done. Last year, pretty much the entire show was made up of escapes. This year, there will probably only be a single escape, maybe two and the rest of the program will be magic. If you can make it out, it's going to be a lot of fun. Seating is limited. So get your tickets soon!

Carnegie from 2016 Obscura Day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Talking Magic History at TEDx in DC

I had the great honor of being invited to speak at a TEDx event in Washington. It was such an enjoyable event. I was asked to speak about magic history and possibly present some magic as well. Not an easy task with a time limit of 8 minutes. All the speakers at the event had 8 minutes to talk. If I had talked ONLY magic history, my speech would have been a bit more in depth. But as it was, I only spoke for 5+ and used the rest of the time for my magic routine. So what they got was a brief overview of magic history.

A TED talk is very different than a lecture. It has to fit within a structure and really move quickly and get to the point fast. Thankfully, the team at TEDxFoggy Bottom were super helpful with guiding my speech in the right direction. As time went on and I rehearsed the speech, I sadly had to cut several  whole paragraphs from the talk. The actual talk is more like 12 minutes, without the magic trick. But I still was able to present a wonderful talk on magic and then follow it up with an unusual piece of wonderment.

If you're wondering the effect I presented, I borrowed a bill and caused it to travel via a Victorian Teleportation Device into a Lightbulb. Actually, the same time the bill traveled to the bulb, the lighting element from the bulb traveled to my Teleportation Device, that's the effect I was going for. Kind of like a mini Metamorphosis trick done with different objects. (and Metamorphosis just so happened to be the theme of the day).

The event sold out so that means they sold 1500 tickets. And what a truly WONDERFUL audience they were! But as wonderful as the audience was, the backstage staff and crew were even more incredible. If only every theatre crew was as attentive and helpful as this bunch. Heck, I'd love to take them with me when we play theatres, they were simply beyond professional!

Eventually, my speech will be posted online, but it might be a couple weeks yet. So if you'd like to get a preview you can check out the incredible graphic that was done LIVE while I spoke by artist Trent Wakenight. Amazingly, he captured all the elements from my talk in the graphic below!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The GREAT Henry Ridgely Evans

I should probably have referred to him as the PROLIFIC Henry Ridgely Evans but it's sort of a play on words as you will see.  While going through a wonderful book on history by Ken Klosterman titled, Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks*, I came across an interesting article titled, 'How I Became Interested In The Magic Art' by Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans.

It seems that a young Henry Evans was fascinated with the book The Arabian Nights as a child. The article even goes on to say that he slept with the book under his pillow.  Years later he came upon an article about Robert-Houdin in an issue of Harper's Magazine. And then in 1877, Professor Hoffmann put out his book MODERN MAGIC, and this took Henry Evans over the edge! He devoured the book and it's material. He soon found a copy of Houdin's biography that he also read through and through.

Drive way up to Dumbarton Oaks
While attending Columbian College in Washington D.C. one of his school mates encouraged him to put on a show and even offered his home as the venue for such a performance. His friend was Edward Linthicum Dent, and the home was called, The Oaks. Today it is known as Dumbarton Oaks and is a Research Library and Collection institute administered by the Trustees of Harvard University. But in the late 1800s it was a private residence and quite an impressive mansion. In fact, it still as!

According to the article, 200 school children from the area came to see the show put on by the amateur conjurer Henry Ridgely Evans. As is often the case for a new performer, poor Evans got cold feet. In fact, he got more than cold feet, his feet wouldn't even move. He was paralyzed with fear! The kids in the audience got wind of his condition and like wild animals that could smell blood, they were ready to pounce!!! But, Evans somehow gained his composure and presented a fairly decent show, with one exception. His 'Card Star' accidentally released early and cards shot everywhere, when they were not supposed to. It brought about the end of the show, and likely the end of Henry Ridgely Evan's career as a performing magician. Fortunately for us, his fascination with magic remained and he became a very prolific writer on the topic.

Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans would go on to become a valued writer of magic history. He wrote, Magic & It's Professors (1902), The Old and the New Magic(1906), Adventures In Magic (1927), History of Conjuring and Magic (1928), A Master of Modern Magic: The Life and Adventures of Robert-Houdin (1932), Some Rare Old Books on Conjuring and Magic (1943)  I just obtained a copy of The Old and the New Magic and am anxious to delve into it's pages.

I wrote about him previously and you can check out that article here
Evans died died at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on March 29th, 1949. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington DC. Below is an image of his grave. Incidentally, Dumbarton Oaks, that I mentioned above is right next to the cemetery! I'm sure had I done more research I might have found the home he lived in while he lived in town, but frankly, the weather was making any sort of further adventures difficult. It took an hour just to find the grave because the areas are not marked, at least not that we could find. But  eventually we did find it and I paid my respects. 

*To be clear, Ken compiled the material in this book, but the material was written by John Braun.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Magician Who Met Abraham Lincoln

This story has intrigued me from the first time I heard of it. In fact, I even wrote about it before. A friend sent me an article from a 1920 LA newspaper and it rekindled my interest in the story. So I'm reprinting my original article below with a couple corrections. These corrections came about by reading an article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald Feb 12th, 1920 edition. In truth, they really fill in more of the blanks than truly correct things. I hope you enjoy the updated article.

The individual in question is Horatio Green Cooke, born 1844 in Norwich Connecticut. As a youth his family moved around a bit finally settling in Iowa. In 1861, Horatio was working as a teacher.  In 1862, Horatio, who would go by the name Harry, enlisted in the Union Army. He had excellent penmanship and was also a fine marksman. Before long he was writing correspondence for various Generals in the Union Army, among them General U.S. Grant.

Due to Cooke's ability as a penman, he soon came to the notice of various people in Washington DC. His ability as a marksman, also played a part in his change in career and in rank. 

He went from being a private in the Union Army to being selected to be as a Captain of Lincoln's Federal Scouts.  He always carried with him a letter autographed by the President Lincoln informing him that he had been selected to be one of his special scouts.  In 1863, he fell under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army, and basically split the Confederacy in half. This event, along with the Battle of Gettysburg, were the turning points in the war for the Union.

R. Ingersoll, Gen Hancock, E. Stanton, Gen Sherman, A. Lincoln
On May 1st, 1864, Harry Cooke was ordered to appear before Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War in Washington D.C.. When he arrived  he found that along with Stanton, was General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Hancock, Senator Robert Ingersoll and President Abraham Lincoln. They had heard of the young scouts unusual ability to free himself from restraints and were curious. So he was tied up with fifty feet of rope. After he was securely tied, Cooke asked Lincoln to walk ten feet away. Then he asked him to return and before Lincoln got back, Cooke had freed himself from the confinement! According to the Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper, Lincoln was amazed and jubilated. Lincoln said to Cooke "Here my boy, keep this to remember Uncle Abe by" and Lincoln then handed Cooke a two dollar bill. Harry Cooke kept that two dollar bill his entire life.

John Singleton Mosby - The Grey Ghost
In the Fall of 1864, Harry was assigned to join General Sheridan in Winchester VA. On October 19th, Harry Cooke and six other scouts were captured by Mosby's Raiders under the command of  'The Grey Ghost', John Singleton Mosby*. Mosby was notorious for his stealth-like raids against Union forces. When his band of raiders captured Harry Cooke and his fellow scouts they took from them all their possessions. In Cooke's pocket was the personal letter from Lincoln appointing him to the position of Federal Scout, a cherished memento. In Mosby's eyes Cooke was a spy and was sentenced to be hanged along with his other scouts. They were to get an early morning hanging, but their final evening on earth would be spent tied to a tree. Being the escape artist that he was, Cooke quietly freed himself from the ropes, and then proceeded to free his fellow prisoners and return back to the Union side under the cover of darkness. Due to the fact that not all of his fellow scounts could swim, they had to split up. Three swam across the Potomac River and the others made their way through the woods. One of the scouts who was swimming later drowned when trying to cross Harpers Ferry Canal.  Cooke and his companion finally made it back to a Union camp. From there, he took some men back to try and find those scouts who chose to make their way through the woods because they couldn't swim. They were eventually discovered, hanged and full of bullet holes. In the end, only Cooke and his other fellow scout that he swam with made it to safety.

Fords Theatre /Library of Congress photo
Harry had always been bothered by the theft of his Lincoln Letter by Mosby's Raiders and decided to try and get a copy from the President himself. On April 14th 1865, Cooke went to the White House in Washington to see Mr. Lincoln. Upon arriving at the White House he was told that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had left for an evening at Fords Theatre. Harry Cooke went to Fords Theatre, where the President and First Lady were watching the play "Our American Cousin". A short time after Harry Cooke arrived a loud shot rang out, and well, the rest is history. Cooke was there, in the audience, as John Wilkes Booth shot the President and then jumped to the stage and out the back doors of Fords Theatre.

It's hard to say when Harry Cooke got his interest in magic or where he developed the ability to escape from ropes. One thing is certain, he had an ability to escape like no one before him, and few since.  After the Civil War ended Horatio Green Cooke became "Professor Harry Cooke" and worked as a professional magician and 'Celebrated King of the Spirit Exposers". Years later he would become President of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and would obtain the new moniker 'The Oldest Living Magician'. His favorite trick throughout his life was the Linking Rings and apparently his routine was one to wonder over.

On May 1st 1924, at the young age of 80, Harry Cooke duplicated his feat of escaping from 50 feet of rope for the Los Angeles area magicians. During this exhibition, Harry Cooke wore his blue Union Army uniform, the same one he wore during the Civil War. The result was exactly as it had been 60 years earlier when he presented the stunt before President Lincoln and his cabinet, HE ESCAPED! A a little over a month later Horatio Green Cooke passed away on June 17, 1924.

I must make note of the fact that though Harry Cooke was well known during his day, and appeared often in magic periodicals of his time period, and was even one of the pallbearers at Harry Kellar's funeral, he had largely been forgotten in recent years. It was Mark Cannon, escape artist and magician who brought the wonderful stories of Harry Cooke back to life through a fantastic article he wrote for MUM Magazine in April 2006. Mark had actually been fortunate enough to meet one of Harry Cooke's daughters at one of his shows and was given Cooke's personal scrap book. And it was because of Mark's wonderful article and my interest in magic history that I first started to delve into the world of Harry Cooke. Eventually, I too got to meet one of Cooke's descendants. You gotta love magic history, you never know where it will take you or who you might encounter!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DC Jail Escape Follow-up.

The 10th Precinct Building

Back in 2014 I wrote an article about Houdini's 1906 jail escape in Washington DC from the 10th precinct. When I first wrote the article I thought  that the jail had been torn down. Later I discovered that in fact, that jail actually was still there and still operational. I finished the article by saying, "Maybe someday I'll head over there and check out to see if Houdini's cell is still there."

As it turned out, last year I received an email from a friend of mine who lives near there. He told me he was planning on going over and check the place out. But then I didn't hear from him. I figured maybe he never made it over. But alas, I ran into him at The Yankee Gathering in November 2016. The mans name is Charles Greene, and he is an excellent magician, speaker and magic historian/collector, and also owner of this site

It turns out that Charles DID visit the 10th Precinct Station and went inside inquiring about a 'Houdini's jail cell'. The cell, was originally in the basement and Charles was told that they'd been removed a long while ago. Still he pressed on and asked to see for himself. Sure enough, there was nothing remaining. The building was still standing but the cell where Houdini did his escape was gone. And thanks to Charles, at least now we know!

Now please don't mistake this for Houdini's other, and more famous jail escape in DC from the Old DC Jail. That would be where Houdini escaped from the cell that once held the assassin to president Garfield. That escape would take place only 5 days later, on Jan 6th, 1906. Below are two views of the prison that may be new to many people. They come from the Library of Congress/Harris&Ewing Collection.

This Old D.C. Jail  was torn down in the early 80s. However, as an interesting side now, the stones used in the building were from the same quarry that supplies stones for the Smithsonian Castle. So some of the jail stones were taken to the Smithsonian to use in repairs of the Castle.